EFF, along with many other organizations, has loudly sounded the alarm about data brokers and the myriad ways they can collect data on unsuspecting users, as well as the numerous dangers of public-private surveillance partnerships. One of the companies that has sometimes flown under the radar, however, is the Canada-based media conglomerate Thomson Reuters. But after coming under increasing criticism for its provision of surveillance technologies to and contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the company has announced it will conduct a company-wide human rights assessment of its products and services. This comes on the heels of multiple years of investor activism where a minority shareholder, the BC General Employees’ Union (BCGEU), joined the Latinx rights organization Mijente in urging Thomson Reuters to cut its ties with ICE.
The union issued a blog post about the decision, stating that “Thomson Reuters contracts with ICE have a total value exceeding $100m USD. The contracts are to provide data brokerage services that help the U.S. agency target undocumented immigrants for detention and deportation. The company, via its Consolidated Lead Evaluation and Reporting (CLEAR) software, amassed data from private and public databases on individuals, like social media information, names, emails, phone data, license plate scans, utility bills, financial information, arrest records, insurance information, employment records, and much more.”
In addition, the CLEAR program provided Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) data collected by Vigilant Solutions to ICE. EFF has long been monitoring the widespread use of Vigilant Solutions and ALPR data by law enforcement. We find the use of ALPR data to further human rights abuses a particularly troubling use of this invasive technology.
BCGEU’s capital markets advisor Emma Pullman told the Verge: “[Thomson Reuters] has realized that investors are quite concerned about this, and that the public are increasingly very concerned about data brokers. In that kind of perfect storm, the company has had to respond.”
While welcome, an investigation of the impact of providing surveillance technologies to human rights abusers is not itself enough. ICE’s human rights record is both horrific and well-documented. This investigation should not be used to rubber-stamp existing contracts with ICE, no matter how lucrative they may be.